If Mama (or Dad) Ain't Happy...

Love your kid but wonder what happened to...you?

Posted Feb 23, 2010

Having kids changes you. Moreover, it changes your relationship—as in your significant one—the one you have with your partner. If you're a single parent, having kids changes the way you view potential relationships. I've yet to meet any parent who disagrees.

My husband and I were in our early thirties when we got married, and had been married nearly seven years when we became parents. We were on-the-same page parents: we consulted each other, valued the others input. We generally agreed on most things, which was both great for our kids because they knew where we stood, and a drag for our kids because we couldn't be played.

But early on as a parent I answered to the role of leader, guide and know-it-all, and I tried really hard to look like I knew what I was doing! It was a direct reaction, I think, to missing the freedom of life just being about me and my husband. Behind the door of our bedroom, makeup washed from my face and comforter drawn up to my chin, I let tears fill my eyes, wet my hair and stain the cotton pillowcases. Then my husband presented to me his handkerchief and I cried all over again, even as he told me it was going to be okay.

It was during one of my crying jags that I actually heard him, and was willing to believe him. I don't know what it was, but something he said that night helped me see that now more than ever-when it felt like there was no time because of the kids-that he and I needed to carve out time for ourselves individually, and for our relationship, together. Just. Us.

So it soon became dinner here, coffee there. A walk with the dog, simple things. Soon my tears (pretty much) dried up. It brought us even closer and made us each stronger individuals. And without even realizing it, by nurturing ourselves and our bond we were modeling the care and feeding of a significant relationship for our kids.

So, keeping in mind that, yes, having kids changes you, I asked Alisa Bowman, creator of Project: Happily Ever After  to explore the topic a bit more with me with an eye of feeding our significant relationships.  Her fearlessly honest views on marriage have earned her national media attention on CNN and Fox, and in Redbook, USA Today, and First. Keep in mind that her take on relationships applies for those who are married or not married. Project: Happily Ever After, her story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to renewing her wedding vows, will be released by Running Press.

Meredith: Adopting a child (or having one naturally) rates an all-time high on the scale of things that stress couples out. It doesn't matter how old the child is-or how old the parent is-when the adoption takes place. Bringing a child into any home is a major life change for everyone. We often focus on the needs of the child in adoption, but I'd like to focus on the needs of the parents. What do most new parents forget when a child arrives that makes their marriage stall? And what are 3 (or however many number) little things they can do to begin to turn things around?

Alisa: I think most people, especially mothers, have their priorities backward when it comes to parenting. I know I did. Most put the child first, the spouse second and themselves third (if that.) When you put yourself last, though, that's a recipe for burnout, poor parenting, and marital problems. You keep allowing yourself to get used up and used up some more, until all that is left of you is an exhausted, out of shape, cranky shadow of your former self. This priority list needs to be flipped. You come first. Your marriage comes second. Your child(ren) come third. When both spouses prioritize their lives this way, they do what is needed to take care of themselves—they get enough sleep, relaxation and "me" time. They do what is needed to keep the marriage strong.

Of course, there are some moments during parenthood when the child, by nature, is going to come first, such as those first few sleepless weeks of babyhood or sleepless and worrisome nights when child is very sick. [Meredith here: Or your kids are teens and miss a curfew, forget to call, are all hormones, etc.] During those times, you go into a survival mode. As long as your marriage is strong, you should be able to get through these experiences relatively unscathed.

Meredith: The fantasy of adoption, just like having a baby, quickly fades once real life sets in. I think the need to control, to keep things as they were, is very much at work. But in trying to control a relationship problems will ensue. How can parents avoid the control trap with each other? What can they do to recognize it?

Alisa: About control. It never makes you feel good. It never results in happiness. If you can take the time to notice and believe that, you will reach a place of acceptance that is so, so peaceful. The only person you can control is you. You can ask your spouse to do things, but it's up to your spouse to decide whether or not to heed your request. The Buddhists talk about living a life of "non attachment." By that, they mean that—whether in marriage, career, parenthood or something else—we release our expectation of arriving at a certain outcome. If you can do this, it's incredibly freeing. Work on what you can control—yourself. You can control whether or not you ask for what you need, for instance. You can control whether or not you give yourself what you need (rest, "me" time, etc). But you can't control what your spouse does. You can't control whether your child listens to you. Accept the rest for what it is. Learn how to continually sigh say, "Oh well. It is what it is."

Meredith: Okay, so parents get jealous of their kids, all the time and attention they require. Even the best, most loving parents. If admitting the problem is 80% of the work, what is the other 20%?

Alisa: I think we all have little happy places that we go to every once in a while. In my happy place, I'm backpacking through Europe. I'm sleeping in. Oh, I fantasize about living in hotels—so I don't have to cook or clean or make my bed.

It's really okay to have a happy place. Joke about it. Talk about it. And try to give yourself a little of what you crave. Parenting should not be 100 percent work. It really should not be a 24/7 job. Hire an overnight sitter every once in a while. Find a way to get to that hobby that you miss. Go on vacation WITHOUT YOUR CHILDREN. Being jealous of your kid is often a sign that you are not getting enough "me" time. Find a way to feed yourself.

Photo: soartsyithurts